New Projects, News, Nuclear

Southern tells feds that COVID-19 could delay Vogtle nuclear expansion

The nearly decade-long effort to build two new reactor units at the Vogtle Nuclear Generating Station in Georgia has endured cost overruns, delays and calls to abandon the project.

It kept moving forward despite all of that, but the impact of the coronavirus may force Vogtle work to slow down or even stop for a time.

Southern Co., the parent of Vogtle project lead developer Georgia Power, highlighted the disruptions of the COVID-19 virus to utility supply chains, finances and planning, according to its filing Wednesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Work on the Vogtle additions of Units 3 and 4­­—which were planned to be operational by 2021 and 2022, respectively—is continuing but could foreseeably stop temporarily.

“These effects could have a variety of adverse impacts on the company and its subsidiaries, including reduced demand for energy, particularly from commercial and industrial customers, impairment of goodwill or long-lived assets and impairment of the ability of the company and its subsidiaries to develop, construct and operate facilities and to access funds from financial institutions and capital markets,” the SEC filing reads.

Georgia Power leads the Vogtle expansion effort and is partnering with fellow owners Oglethorpe Power, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Dalton Power. Westinghouse was initially lead contractor on the work but dropped out due to its 2017 filing for bankruptcy, so Bechtel was hired to lead engineering, procurement and construction efforts after that delay.

The COVID-19 virus has raced throughout the world since becoming known early this year. More than 900,000 cases have been confirmed with over 45,000 deaths globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University daily coronavirus update Wednesday.

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The U.S. has more confirmed cases than any other nation exceeding 200,000 with more than 4,000 deaths so far. Fear of spreading the virus has virtually shut down U.S. economic activity, and many utilities have suspended service disconnections for non-payment and joined other sectors in stopping travel by employees.

“The effects of the continued outbreak of COVID-19 and related government responses could include extended disruptions to supply chains and capital markets, reduced labor availability and productivity and a prolonged reduction in economic activity,” Southern Co. wrote to the SEC. “In particular, these effects could disrupt or delay construction, testing, supervisory and support activities at Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4. “

Southern and Georgia Power just a week ago announced that the dome, or top head, had been placed atop Unit 4’s containment vessel. The top head for Unit 3 also had already been put in place.

Once operational, Vogtle units 3 and 4 would be the first new U.S. nuclear energy capacity in many years. Browns Ferry went online in 2007.

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Nuclear power projects will be front and center in the Lowering Carbon with Thermal Power conference workshop at POWERGEN International. POWERGEN 2020 will be December 8-10 in Orlando, Florida.